Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Psychopathology 101 (continued)

re Civilization and Its Discontents (Freud)

The elderly Freud--his books were being burnt by the nazis the last few years of his life-- had rejected most of his earlier ego-psychology, and shifted his analysis from the hysteria-victims in his parlor to human history and society-at- large:
"Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result is that their neighbour is to them not only a possible helper or sexual object, but also a temptation to them to gratify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all the evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty usually lies in wait for some provocation, or else it steps into the service of some other purpose, the aim of which might as well have been achieved by milder measures. In circumstances that favour it, when those forces in the mind which ordinarily inhibit it cease to operate, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of the early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns or by the so-called Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamurlane, of the sack of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, even indeed the horrors of the last world-war, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man."

Not exactly necessary truths in a logical sense but Freud at least hints at an inductively sound account of human's "instinctual endowment" (--Milgram's experiments provide some confirmation of this rather negative view of humanity). Thanatos (the preferred metaphor for death drive) accompanies and struggles with eros (libidinal energy); the death drive (of the later Freud, which is slightly different than the early version) relates to aggressiveness and sadism: “sadism is the destructive instinct directed outwards, thus acquiring the characteristic of aggressiveness”.

Freud had studied under Helmholz at one point, and attempted to align his psychological theories with thermodynamics (and other concepts from modern physics): thus, Thanatos may be read as a manifestation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy) on the human level. Speculative, yet Freud wanted to ground his theory of instincts on scientific materialism for better or worse (instead of the crypto-Cartesianism of most "existential" psychologists, whether Sartre, Maslow, or Rollo May, or Lacan's odd labyrinthes). Biology also offers some confirmation of thanatos-like instincts among various species: an aggressiveness-meme may confer certain genetic advantages (though that presents difficulties for the Freudian schema). Professional sports, for instance, offers fairly tangible proof of applied Thanatos.

Most residents of Patholopolis, however, care not for social psychology, whether the conceptual type of late Freud (or Nietzsche), or the experimental social-psychology of a Milgram (which we contend verifies Freud's darker speculations to some extent). Social psych. tends to undermine the typical WASPish optimism, and calls into question the "rational man" standard common to Econ. 101 courses across America. It could call into question the marxists' innate praise of the proletariat as well. Really, one might view Civilization and its Discontents (and Milgram's experiments) as a confirmation of "evil", though without the theological or moralistic underpinnings (Milgram shows how the "willing executioners" of fascism--- or stalinism/maoism-- operate. Ethical ruminations are left up to the discriminating reader (if you haven't bothered to read Milgram's experiments, you don't know jack about modern psychology).

The data-based social psych. did not lack a certain behaviorist aspect as well---Milgram presumably knew his Thorndike as well as Freud & Co.. Social psychology, however, does not coexist peacefully with the touchy-feely existential psychology of Maslow, Rollo May and other psych.-gurus popular in 60s and 70s (RD Laing, admirer of Sartre (rather over-rated as an intellectual, but authentic to some degree), was not so touchy-feely--his followers generally were, however). The Maslovian school wanted creative self-actualizers: alas the usual Maslovian narcissist overlooked and dismissed Thanatos in hopes of enhancing eros.

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